FROM GENESIS TO REVELATION
Thus Spake Anthony Phillips
Genesis is the first book of the Old Testament that recounts the Biblical story of the creation of the world. It is therefore, a perfect title for a band and their debut album, expressing bold confidence in their future prospects and itself now hailed as an historical document.
Repertoire is pleased to announce that ‘From Genesis To Revelation’ the first album by one of the world’s top groups, is shortly to be reissued on an exciting new CD. Their Sixties’ masterwork features all the original LP songs in stereo, together with bonus A and B side ‘single’ tracks. The CD liner notes also have a brand new exclusive interview with founder member and lead guitarist Anthony Phillips. He describes the origins of the band and the background to the creation of an album conceived when the group were only just out of school.
It was back in March 1969 that ‘From Genesis To Revelation’ was first released, along with all the hopes and dreams of its young composers. While the ambitious album failed to ignite bolts of lightning from the heavens and cries of ‘Behold’ from the wise men of pop, it created an opportunity for the band to grow. One day, they would succeed beyond their wildest dreams.
The core members of early Genesis were charismatic vocalist and composer Peter Gabriel, guitarist Anthony Phillips, keyboard virtuoso and composer Tony Banks and Mike Rutherford, composer, vocalist, guitarist and bass player. Together they justified the faith shown in them by pop mogul Jonathan King, who discovered the group, provided them with a record contract, gave them their name and produced the album.
The boys were from Charterhouse, one of England’s best known public schools. While most of the pupils were expected to take advantage of their education and become captains of industry many were more interested in the world of Sixties pop; Tamla Motown, The Who and The Beatles. Some pupils preferred singing, playing piano, guitars and drums in the dining hall than playing cricket on the sports field.
By 1966 two school groups showed promise, The Garden Wall and The Anon. When they combined forces they became The New Anon. In 1967 Peter Gabriel, Tony Banks and Mike Rutherford together with Anthony Phillips (guitar) and Chris Stewart (drums) recorded a a demo tape they passed to Jonathan King at Decca Records. Jonathan was an ‘old boy’ from the school, otherwise known as a ‘Carthusian’. After leaving Charterhouse he had gone to Cambridge and didn’t actually know any of band members. King had become a celebrity after hitting the charts in 1965 with ‘Everyone’s Gone To The Moon’ (Decca) while still an undergraduate. He had also launched pop group Hedgehoppers Anonymous and seemed the right man to approach for help.
King had his own publishing company and was looking for new talent. He was impressed by the acoustic demo and signed the boys to his company, paying £40 for four songs then set up recording sessions at Regent Sound. Anthony Phillips recalls the group that had barely done any ‘gigs’ being offered the chance to record a whole album.
“We were signed as songwriters and I think he wanted to make us more of a group like Hedgehoppers Anonymous. We started out at school as The Anon which was really a ‘covers’ band.’ Peter Gabriel and Tony Banks were two years older than us so they weren’t involved in that. We did all the Beatles and Stones stuff. Then I got hold of a 12-string and started writing songs. Mike Rutherford and I did some demo recordings with Tony and invited Peter to sing one song. When Jonathan King came down to an ‘open day’ at the school we were too nervous to speak to him. So we got one of our friends to press the demo into his hand. He later signed us to Jonco Music. It was 1967 and we got paid forty quid! But we never thought of ourselves as going on the road and being a pop group. We just loved writing. Then Mike and I left
Charterhouse after doing our ‘A’ levels. We started churning out vast unwieldy epic songs that weren’t really what JK wanted.”
When King wasn’t impressed by their first efforts, panic set in. Jonathan was a fan of the Bee Gees, so Tony and Peter hastily wrote a song called ‘The Silent Sun’ in Gibb brothers’ style, hoping to please their mentor.
The new approach worked and the schoolboys were given a one year Decca record contract. Their latest effort was released as a single in February 1968, coupled with ‘That’s Me’ on the B Side. But ‘The Silent Sun’ failed to shine in the chart. “It was a song I hated” confesses Anthony.” As a young idealist I thought it was a sell-out. I remember we went out to buy our Carnaby Street gear and thought we’d become instant pop stars. Mercifully it wasn’t a hit. If it had been and we’d become like Hedgehoppers Anonymous we’d never had developed our individual style. ”
Their next single ‘A Winter’s Tale’ coupled with ‘One Eyed Hound’ also flopped in May that year.
Undeterred, King then invited his protégés to record an album. Anthony: “To his great credit he said ‘Okay guys, you go and do your own thing and do an album. You don’t get that kind of this these days!”
Jonathan gambled on the idea of recording an ambitious ‘concept’ album. The overall theme was devoted to the creation of the world and subsequent evolution of Mankind, hence ‘From Genesis To Revelation.’
Meanwhile the lads had recruited new drummer, John Silver and stayed at his home in Oxford where they rehearsed material during the school holidays. “Chris Stewart had left. He was a good mate but Peter had met John Silver while he was doing his ‘A’ levels and invited him to join. When school broke up for the summer we literally wrote a whole album during a five week period. We came back to London to record the demos at a studio in Chiswick in early August. W e had become Genesis because Jonathan King came up with the name pretty early on. Then it had to be changed to Revelation briefly because there was an American group called Genesis.”
Anthony remembers that before they did they album they had recorded a flower power song in the summer of 1967 called ‘When The Sour Turns To Sweet.’ “That didn’t even get released at all which was probably a good thing. We did it at Advision and it was a different version. I remember swanning around in a caftan and Jonathan King saying ‘Oh you are such a flower child’. It was probably wildly pretentious. So we’d had three singles, one not released and two that had bombed. Despite that JK let us go into the studio and do the album. We did it at Regent Sound A which was in University Street, not Regent Sound B which was a small demo studio in Denmark Street. The one we used was quite big and it was quite an idyllic time for us as I can hardly remember an argument and we all got on very well. The music just seemed to flow. Even though there were four potential composers which could have been a recipe for chaos, I don’t remember anyone jockeying for position. That happened later but it didn’t happen on that album.”
It was said they had to record the whole album in one day and legend has it that Peter Gabriel was so nervous he had take cold showers to help him hit the high notes. Anthony recalls there was a gym in the building so it might have been possible
Relations between producer and band became rather strained when they heard the completed tracks. Jonathan had added a string section arranged by musical director Arthur Greenslade and the strings took up the whole of one stereo channel while the band’s efforts were confined to the other channel.
‘From Genesis To Revelation’ was issued in 1969 a doomy looking black cover with gold lettering which didn’t much help prospective sales, especially as some record shops mistook it for a collection of hymns and put it in the religious LP racks. There were some encouraging reviews, including one in the ‘underground’ newspaper International Times. But without any radio plays the record sank without trace and eventually sold an estimated 650 copies.
Tony Banks was so disheartened he decided to go to Sussex University to start a course in physics. At least there was one legacy from the whole adventure. The band took up Jonathan King’s suggestion and named themselves Genesis for all eternity. The producer later proclaimed: “It was one of the great underrated albums. It was revolutionary thinking from a bunch of young people and was way ahead of its time.”
In the aftermath the Charterhouse boys told their producer they had broken up and discretely withdrew to Surrey to plan their next step. When they re-emerged it was with yet another new drummer John Mayhew, a different record label called Charisma and new manager, the late Tony Stratton Smith.
Anthony: “John Silver had decided he would go to an American university, so he left and the rest of us had to decide what to do. After a lot of soul searching and auditioning lots of drummers we decided to be a band, go on the road and play some gigs.”
The band rehearsed practically every day from September 1969 until March 1970 at a cottage in the country, to turn themselves into a ‘live’ unit to play on the university and night club circuits. “A lot of the audiences didn’t get it and there were long delays between songs due to tuning up the guitars. This was when Peter discovered his persona as a story teller. But at one stage he couldn’t remember the lyrics and couldn’t talk on stage he was so nervous. But once he started acting it cured his stutter and we also began playing much heavier songs and a lot of the gentler acoustic music went out the window. Nobody really knew who we were. I remember us playing at a pub in South London to an audience of one. Peter looked at him and said: ‘Any requests?’ When Jonathan King heard us in that transitional phase he was completely bemused.
Their next album ‘Trespass’ was released in 1970 and Genesis begun to gain a loyal ‘underground’ following. When John Mayhew and Anthony Phillips both left, it left the way clear for new recruits guitarist Steve Hackett and drummer Phil Collins.
Why did Anthony leave the band just as they were about the break? “I dunno, I went off the rails a bit. I found touring very pressurised although I was very keen on the idea at first. I’d had glandular fever before we went on the road and I was supposed to look after myself for at least a year. But we were travelling all over the country and sleeping on draughty floors. I eventually got bronchial pneumonia and became very nervous on stage. There were arguments within the band and I just needed to get away from it all. And so I left and the rest is history. I don’t think any of us ever thought it was become so successful.”
Genesis was reborn and the revitalised group began to unleash such marvellous albums as ‘Nursery Cryme’ (1971), ‘Foxtrot’ (1972), ‘Selling England By The Pound’ (1973) and ‘The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway’ (1974). Gabriel then left to launch a solo career and Phil Collins took over as the band’s lead singer, a role he accomplished with great aplomb for many years, culminating in such albums as ‘Genesis’ (1983) and the 1986 blockbuster ‘Invisible Touch.’
Collins solo career also rocketed when he released ‘Face Value’ in 1981 that yielded mega hit ‘In The Air Tonight’. After decades of achievement it was a great loss to the music world when Collins announced his retirement in the Spring of 2011. Peter Gabriel also enjoyed considerable success with his career, hailed as one of rock’s most creative composers and performers and enjoying hits like ‘Sledgehammer’ from his award winning 1986 album ‘So’.
Genesis has now retired as a touring entity and its former members are all legendary figures. Remarkable to recall how it all begun with this ambitious album recorded in a day in a London studio, some 42 years ago.
Anthony Phillips, who today runs his own TV library music company, has recorded many solo albums over the years since his Genesis days. He listened to ‘Revelation’ in 2011 for the first time since 1969. His verdict? “It isn’t as bad as I thought at the time! And I don’t feel ashamed of it at all.”